Houston school breaks through barriers of autism

There is a one-of-a-kind school in Houston that is helping students who are neurologically different than their peers. Whether it's autism, ADHD, Tourette's Syndrome, or a traumatic brain injury...parents say this school is breaking through barriers no one has been able to get through before. Educators at The Monarch School, off of the Katy Freeway near Beltway 8, seem to be shaping students from the inside out. 

"The kids who come to us have not been successful in other environments, so we work with kids in a variety of unique and different ways," says Dr. Christina Navarro, who is the EED Butterfly Program Director. A good example of this would be pushing or pulling a wagon. This helps develop motor skills, encourages a child to communicate, who would typically have a tough time doing that, and even teaches them how to follow directions.              

Michelle Groogan says she and her family used to rely on a babysitter, because outings were too overwhelming for her son, Garrett, who has autism. That has changed, after he has been at Monarch, for only a year. 

"What I have now at home is a child who really doesn't have major tantrums anymore, a child who is able to cope with his own anxiety, his ability to recognize he's starting to get angry or feel anxious, and use those tools they're teaching him here to use them on his own," says Michelle with a smile. She likes what the school stands for. There's deep meaning behind the name Monarch.

"The metamorphosis of a butterfly from a chrysalis is such a tremendous analogy of the work we do here. We begin - what is their chrysalis - what is inside them that is going to make them transformed...their talents, strengths -- we believe every child has tremendous strengths, it's our job to find them," says Debrah Hall, the head of school. Children even get to witness that metamorphosis, by observing it on campus. They learn to patiently wait for a butterfly to emerge. Meanwhile, parents witness their children doing something similar.         

Teachers say they thrive on thinking "out of the box" here. They treat every child differently, in a non-restrictive environment, in a way that benefits them, in their own unique way. That means many classrooms don't have a door and open up into a common room. A child can take a breather and go there, which is considered part of their classroom. They can take a break from class and go for a walk or eat lunch outside, whatever makes them feel most comfortable at that moment. There is always an instructor on standby to go with them, to take opportunities for learning moments, and make sure they're safe. 

"It's so important to take the time to observe the child, to read their signals, to discover who they are, to learn how they process, what's comfortable for them, what soothes or energizes them, so that we can meet them at that place and develop patterns of interaction," says Sharon Duval, the director of DIR & Speech Language Therapy Services at The Monarch School.        

Students can really feel the difference!  "You get to talk about your feelings and I never got that in my other schools," says Josephine.  Academics and relationships are a priority here.  "For many of our students, the relationship aspect is the most difficult task for them to grasp and for them to practice with daily, so our teachers and faculty work together to recreate a relationship to bond with that child," says Navarro.        

Students are grouped by developmental capabilities, instead of age.  "We've found if we were to write down procedures and rules - we've already missed the mark - every child every moment every context is unique and we have to have this springwork in our mind," exclaims  Christopher Perri, program director for the Chrysalis Program.        

As students witness butterflies struggle out of their chrysalis, they learn the Monarchs will gain stronger wings and be able to fly.  Instructors, moms, and dads, hope children will do the same.  Many of them do, under the caring leadership at Monarch.  "No family wakes up and says I want to go to the Monarch, but they're so grateful for it!  It transforms them into a contributing member of this world," says Hall.  That's when they get to live in a home like this, under supervision, and even hold down a job. All because someone was able to evoke emotions and open-up a whole new world for them, they'd never been able to see before.

For more information, visit http://www.monarchschool.org/.